Authors: Lori Dillon
“Well, you see, they were showing a replay of the Thirty Years War at the Cineplex, and I didn’t want to miss it.”
“Apparently, that was why you were thirty years late getting Male 2028 to the drop off station?”
Marsha jumped to Hershel’s defense.
“At least we got them to meet that time.”
rubbed his temples in circles, pressing so hard that Marsha thought he might pop his eyes out of their sockets.
“Having her nearly run over him with her carriage is hardly what I would call ‘meeting.’ And besides, he was only thirteen, and she was what? Nearly fifty?”
“Forty-three,” Marsha corrected him. “And age wouldn’t have mattered once he’d grown to manhood.”
stopped rubbing and looked at Marsha.
“Yes, unfortunately she died before that could happen, didn’t she?”
“How was I supposed to know that the lead in her cosmetics was lethal?”
“Well, we know that now, don’t we?”
clasped his hands together and laid them on top of the papers on his desk.
“If it were up to me, I’d have you both reassigned to something with less responsibility, such as snowflake design or sand grain inventory. As it is,
wants you both to see this thing through to the end.”
does?” Marsha and Hershel said in unison.
“Yes, but there is a condition.”
Marsha was afraid to ask. “What’s that?”
“You’re both to go on location.”
“Yes, you will return to Earth and personally supervise Male 2028 and Female 5923 to make sure their contract is fulfilled this time.”
“Go down there?” They looked at each other. Why, the very idea was unheard of. “For how long?”
“For as long as it takes.”
pointed his finger at them. “Remember, this is your last chance to get this right. For heaven’s sake, these people aren’t cats. They’re not supposed to have nine lives.”
Posterity, posterity, this is your concern…
Twenty times, since the creation of the sun
has Vesuvius blazed, never without a horrid
destruction of those that hesitate to fly.
This is a warning, that it may never
seize you unapprised.
The womb of this mountain is pregnant with
bitumen, alum, iron, gold, silver,
and fountains of water.
Sooner or later it kindles, and when the sea
rushes in, will give birth vent…
If you are wise, hear this speaking stone.
Neglect your domestic concerns, neglect your
goods, and chattels, there is no delaying.
— Anno Domini
in the reign of Philip IV,
Fonseca, Viceroy, 1632
From a plaque inscribed in Latin and erected in the village of Portici,
warning its citizens of the evil of Vesuvius
Serafina blew softly on the dirt, effectively puffing away nearly two thousand years of dust and ash from the object hidden beneath. A speck of shiny silver glinted at her in the bright afternoon sun. She held her breath, fighting the urge to dig her hands deep in the dirt and rip the priceless artifact from its earthen tomb.
Years of study and practice had taught her restraint at times like this, even while the excitement of discovery pounded through her veins.
She lay prostrate in the dirt with a small pick in one hand and a soft brush in the other and began the arduous task of unearthing her prize one grain of dirt at a time.
After an hour of backbreaking work, the relic was partially exposed. Serafina inspected what appeared to be a large silver cup still half-buried in the ground. Raised skeletons depicting scenes of celebration covered the exterior. She shifted to allow more sunlight to shine on the cup. Brushing the last layer of dust from its surface revealed an engraved inscription around the rim.
VIVO DUM VOS HABEO CRASTINUS INCERTUS. Enjoy life while you have it, for tomorrow is uncertain.
The irony of the words struck Serafina as she traced her finger over the intricate carvings. There had been no tomorrow for the unlucky citizens of Pompeii.
“Well, well. What have we found here?”
She didn’t have to look up. Giovanni Ragusa’s deep voice was all too familiar.
“I should think that would be obvious. It’s a pre-Columbian urinal.”
She heard him growl behind her. As usual, he did not appreciate her sarcasm.
He squatted beside her and tried to edge her away with his shoulder.
“Very funny. Let me see that.”
Serafina fought the urge to cover the object with her arm like a child hiding a test from a cheating classmate.
“No, it’s my find. Go dig in your own hole.”
He sat back on his heels, a look of disdain marring his handsome features.
“As senior archeologist on this site, this whole damn city is my hole.”
“I think Signore
would have to disagree with that,” she said, referring to the Director of Excavations.
“Senior archeologist in charge of this region, then.” Giovanni brushed at the dust on his pants, dust that was ever-present on anyone digging in the ruins. “Which makes me
superior, at least. Now let me see it.”
Serafina hated when he was right, especially since he never hesitated to point out each and every occasion to her. She slowly stood and stepped back, giving him access to the silver cup.
Looking down on his dark head, she wondered how she had ever thought he was attractive.
She took that back. He was handsome—a handsome ass. His good looks and smooth talk had fooled her once, years ago. But she had learned her lesson the hard way, and since then he did nothing but irritate her.
She watched as he bent to examine the cup. She allowed him this one liberty, but stopped him when he reached to pull it out of the ground.
“As senior archeologist, you should know procedure by now. The find has to be documented and photographed in place before it’s removed.”
Giovanni stood, his eyes narrowed to slits as he glared down his hawk-like nose at her.
“You’re so right. Well, go on, then. Get the camera, and document your find. What’s one small tin cup compared to what I’ve discovered so far?”
“Only one more that you didn’t find.”
Serafina turned on her heel and left him standing there.
How did the man have the ability to get under her skin so? Of course, he had more experience, and as a result, more credited finds, which he never stopped reminding her of. But that was going to change. She would eat dirt before she let him think he was a better archeologist just because he was a man.
Hurrying to a previously excavated Roman villa now used as a temporary supply building, she grabbed the Brownie camera and a documentation form.
The excitement of the discovery quickly returned. She had been digging at the Pompeii ruins for three years, and the silver cup was her biggest find so far. Oh, she had done her share of assisting in the excavation of other archeologists’ great finds, but this one was hers. All hers.
As she returned to her dig site, she saw Giovanni standing over her find with Alfonso
and his assistant,
Apprehension pooled in the pit of her stomach as she approached. The men seemed oblivious to her presence at first. Then Giovanni looked up, an expression of false surprise on his face.
“Ah, I see you finally showed up with the camera.”
He snatched the camera from her and prepared to photograph the silver cup.
“As you can see,” he said to the men as he looked through the viewfinder on the top of the box camera, “from what I’ve unearthed so far, the cup seems to be in perfect condition.”
Serafina nearly choked.
Giovanni raised his head and turned to her.
, although I will have to admit that
Pisano did assist a little with the excavation.”
That’s my find, Giovanni, and you know it.”
She lunged at him, wanting to claw out his eyes, but
grabbed her by the arm before she nearly trampled the silver cup.
Giovanni shook his head at her.
“Poor Serafina. I warned Signore
that you might do this.” He turned to the director. “She has been upset lately, since she has yet to make a significant find of her own.”
She lunged again, nearly breaking free of
grip. He held her with the strength of a young man, even though he was old enough to be her grandfather.
patted her shoulder as if he were consoling a child. “You will have your chance to make your own discoveries, Serafina. For now, let Giovanni do his work.”
“You heard the director,” Giovanni smiled, but his obvious lack of respect for her showed in his eyes. “Why don’t you go find your own little hole to dig in, and leave the serious archeology to men with more experience?”
She reeled, the impact of her own words thrown back in her face felt like a physical slap.
How dare he do this to her?
turned Serafina and started walking her away.
“Take heart, little one. Everything will work out for the best. There are greater things for you to discover. I am certain of it.”
Serafina barely heard the older man’s kind words. She looked back over her shoulder, unable to believe what had happened.
Giovanni Ragusa had just stolen her find.
* * *
David Corbin walked up to the main entrance of Pompeii, his heart in his throat.
So far, so good.
No one seemed to pay him any attention. With his civilian clothing, black hair, and dark features, he blended in easily with the Italian people on the street. It was one of the reasons he had been hand-picked for this assignment. That, and the fact that he spoke fluent Italian and passable German. They were skills that kept him from the front lines for the time being, much to his war-hero father’s disappointment.
The old man might be proud of him, if he knew what David was doing and where he was. But he didn’t. No one did, except for David’s unit stationed far away on the coast of Africa.
Sent to spy on the Germans encamped near Pompeii, he was to find out if the rumors were true that they were hiding munitions within the ruins. It was simple, really. Hire on at the dig site, observe their movements, and report back to headquarters when he located the hidden munitions.
Simple, as long as he didn’t get shot along the way. Unfortunately, if anyone discovered he was an American on enemy soil, that’s just what might happen.
His first sight of the ruins surprised him as he walked through the
. He wasn’t sure what he had expected. Maybe a group of old men poking around a bunch of rocks with shovels in their hands. Certainly not a complete city with standing buildings and streets. Granted, the buildings had no roofs, and some were missing a wall or two, but it was a city nonetheless.
Clusters of people milled about, and he picked up bits and pieces of their conversations. Tourists mostly, from what he could tell. A couple from Hungary stood to his right. Off to his left, a large group of Austrians was trying to figure out a map printed in Italian. And, of course, the Germans. Some were civilians, while others were soldiers in uniform strolling among the ruins. Apparently, even a war didn’t stop the tourist trade.
Spotting one of the tour guides, David asked him where to go to find out about hiring on at the site. The man pointed toward a long, narrow street. The uneven cobblestones led David down an ancient road into the heart of the ruins.
The deeper he walked into the city, the fewer tourists he encountered, since this area had hardly been touched by the archaeologists. With the exception of a few scattered buildings, only the street had been excavated, leaving the vacant facades of the empty homes and shops to watch him as he passed by.
Just as he was suspecting he’d taken a wrong turn, he encountered a bustling hub of activity. Men, young and old, were at work everywhere. Some pushed wheelbarrows filled with dirt down the narrow street, while others labored in shallow pits under white canvas tents to shield them from the hot summer sun.
David scanned the workers, then approached the one who looked like he was in charge. The man inspected him from head to toe, then called out to someone down in one of the holes.
Within moments, a man climbed out of the pit and walked up to David.
. Can I help you?”
He looked down on the little old man who took off his sweat-stained canvas hat to wipe at the beads of perspiration on his forehead. The man was a good foot shorter than David, and his balding head was pink and peeling from sunburn.
, I am looking for work.”
The old man nodded and replaced his hat.
“Come with me, then. My name is
, and I am assistant to the Director of Excavations. I’m certain he will hire you. With the war, we are in short supply of young, strong backs.” The old man grinned and pointed at himself. “As you can see, some of us are not so strong or young anymore.”
They walked past several villas and shops, the cracked plaster walls and gaping doorways silent testimony to the bustling city that once was. David thought it odd that none of the buildings had any windows, at least none facing the street.
They entered one of the ruined villas and walked down a short, narrow hallway. Stepping down into what appeared to be a single large room, he noted that the walls were still covered with faded fresco murals, and the mosaic tile floor appeared to be in almost perfect condition. A large square cut out of the center of the roof allowed light to flood the room.
A man of about sixty sat at a large wooden table near the center of the room examining a small silver cup, while all around him lay piles of cracked pottery, pieces of broken columns, and small, limbless statues.
, I have a young man here who seeks work. I think we can find a place for him,
The man looked up from his work.
Stepping up to the table, David removed his hat, and the lies he had rehearsed for days tumbled easily from his mouth in flawless Italian.
“My name is David Corbelli,” he said, pronouncing his first name the Italian way—
—and modifying his surname to a similar, local one. “I am from Naples.”
The professor eyed him suspiciously. “You are a young man. How is it that you are not fighting in the war?”
“Busted ear drum.”
cocked a questioning brow at him.
“I may not be able to hear the enemy coming, but I’m still strong enough to do a hard day’s work.”
The man seemed to take him at his word.
“Have you ever worked on an archeological dig before?”
“No, but I am a fast learner.”
“Very well, send him over to
four. We could use more diggers there.”
stepped up beside David, the man’s small frame making David feel like a giant beside him.
“Perhaps he could be of use at the
. I’m certain there is plenty of work still to be done there.”
glanced down at the cup in his hand.